22 March 2013

Random Royal Appreciation: The Pope's Inaugural Mass

Unless you've been living under a happy little rock, you probably know that there's a new pope out there: Pope Francis was elected on March 13th, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. His inaugural mass on Tuesday was witnessed by a handful of royal representatives, and that's where we come in.

Whenever royals are involved, the full intricacies of Vatican dress code protocol come to light. Generally speaking, when meeting the Pope ladies are requested to dress modestly in black and cover their heads (often with a veil or mantilla); protocol allows a select group of women to dress in white, which is called privilège du blanc, and we'll get to that in a bit. A visit to the Pope used to see some seriously formal outfits (long black gowns and veils often worn with tiaras and orders for royal ladies, and full uniforms or white tie with orders for the royal men), but as with many dress codes, things have gotten less formal. These days you see an increasing number of suits or day dresses. And if it's not even black, well, fine.

Because this is, at the end of the day, etiquette and not law. It is inherently open to interpretation, and can change at any time. It's also open for confusion. (I have a personal theory on all issues of protocol, by the way: just when you think you've got the "rules" down, you will find an example to contradict you. Therefore, by the transitive property of meh, you shouldn't worry about it too much.)

Anyway, usually these dress code issues are sorted out by a note on the invitation - except there were no invitations handed out for Tuesday's inaugural papal mass (those that wanted to come were welcome, said the Vatican). So there was no specific official dress code to abide by or to break, and what we ended up with was kind of a review of the changing Vatican dress code over time. A Vatican Variety Pack, if you will.

Left: the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg with Prince Félix behind them. Right: the King and Queen of the Belgians
Right away we can see a less formal dress code in action, as the men are wearing business suits. (Henri wore a uniform to Pope Benedict's installation.) Of course, one of the things that has been highlighted over and over again about the new pope is his own simple lifestyle and so on, so perhaps this is a nod to simpler desires. Queen Paola wore a less formal day dress, but Grand Duchess Maria Teresa wore a more formal full-length outfit. And on both, we can see privilège du blanc in action - they were the only two royal women in white at this mass.
The Prince and Princess of Asturias
If Queen Sofia had been present, we might have had a third, as she is also afforded the privilège du blanc. Letizia will not have the privilege until she's queen, so she wore black. (She and Felipe were considerably less formal than the last time they visited the Vatican, in 2004.) The privilege of wearing white has for the past many years been limited to the Queens of Belgium and Spain and the Grand Duchesses of Luxembourg among our currently reigning monarchies (it also applies to some in non-reigning monarchies). It was understood to be a special distinction that did not extend to every Catholic monarchy.
Left to Right: the Hereditary Prince and Princess of Liechtenstein, the Prince and Princess of Monaco. Behind them, Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein (née of Luxembourg, in the sunglasses) and her husband Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein (in white tie; he is Liechtenstein's non-resident ambassador to the Holy See)
The principalities (Monaco, Liechtenstein) were among those whose Catholic sovereign consorts traditionally wore black to the Vatican. And then in January of this year, Charlene showed up in white, and the Vatican press office backed her up, stating that she was allowed to dress in white in line with the ceremonial for Catholic sovereigns. I had hoped that the Princess of Liechtenstein would be in attendance at the inaugural mass to see if she too now has privilège du blanc, but the Hereditary Prince and Princess were there instead (and she, of course, was in black). Charlene was in black too, which caused even more confusion. Of course, those with the privilège du blanc can wear black if they like (Luxarazzi has a nice post on this too, showing Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte opting to wear black), but it is a little odd that she would opt out of the privilege for such an important event.
The Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima of the Netherlands
Prince Albert wore a morning suit, splitting the difference between the formal and relatively informal dress for men we saw, but the Dutch went all out. They were the most formally dressed royals, really: white tie for Willem-Alexander and a long dress for Máxima (who is Argentinian just like the new pope). Máxima herself is Catholic, but the Dutch monarchy is Protestant, meaning she'll never be the consort of a Catholic sovereign. So we shouldn't expect her to obtain privilège du blanc in the future...unless protocol changes again.
The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester
And finally, the Gloucesters represented the Queen. They split the difference too, with a morning coat for him and a day dress for her, but adding in some medals and orders (the Royal Victorian Order, the Diamond Jubilee Medal, and a rare daywear sighting of the Royal Family Order for the Duchess).

Do you see what I mean? So many things going on, it's barely worth trying to figure it out. (Some of you are tut-tutting me right now, insistent that things are concrete, and there are hard rules. And that's the way chats about protocol go!) Whatever the "rules" may be, I always do appreciate an opportunity to see a dress code that's a little out of the ordinary - especially when it involves inherently elegant mantillas.

P.S.: Some of you have requested a chat about the Our Queen documentary, and you can head over to the Jewel Vault for that!

P.P.S.: Those of you having difficulty seeing embedded videos on mobile devices and other platforms, let me know if you can see today's video. If not, the caption is a link to take you to the video site.

Photos: Getty Images/Reuters